Composer and vocalist Shara Nova.

The Blue Hour

Gabriel Lefkowitz, conductor
Shara Nova, vocalist

A review by Annette Skaggs

Entire contents are copyright © 2022 by Annette Skaggs. All rights reserved.

An exciting project came to fruition this past Saturday evening between our Louisville Orchestra and several female artists who shared their passion for prose and composition.

Using text from author and poet Carolyn Forché’s The Blue Hour, five composers set music to Ms. Forché’s work and the result was, in a word…interesting. The ladies who brought their musical prowess to the text were Caroline Shaw, Angélica Negron, Sarah Kirkland Snider, Shara Nova (who served as vocalist), and local musician, Rachel Grimes.

40 selections from Ms. Forché’s The Blue Hour were used as the libretto for the collaboration with titles such as “A Syllable”, by Ms. Shaw, “She Heard No One’s Footsteps” by Ms. Snider, “Her Hair” by Ms. Negron, “It Appears to be an Elegy” by Shara Nova and “In The Toy Store” by Ms. Grimes. As much fun as it would be to dissect each selection, I’ll share my thoughts on the piece as a whole.

Throughout the evening I could catch quotations of famous works like Johann Sebastian Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto and Vivaldi’s Four Seasons Winter Concerto that were well blended into very creative and unusual orchestrations. Using only the strings, the Louisville Orchestra and its pinch-hitting conductor Gabriel Lefkowitz was tasked with deciphering the creative music writing. 

I cannot say that everything fit like a glove, as the musical excerpts were as varied as the texts used as inspiration. For instance, Rachel Grimes’ interpretation of the text Poppy Seed had a very classical feel to it, but Shara Nova’s Library Lilac was much more experimental. And Ms. Nova certainly was not the only composer to employ an unusual style in their writing. 

In Caroline Shaw’s J’ai rêvé the use of discordant instrumentation was part of her scene, yet somehow fit appropriately and left a pleasing sound in the ear. Similarly, Angélica Negron’s The Hole had a sound similar to the one you would find at a middle school orchestra’s tuning session. Not that that was a bad thing, mind you, it was just different, but yet again, worked. Sarah Kirkland Snider’s I Am Alone was deceptive in its use of simple exposition of chords with scurrying rhythms.

Throughout the evening, some of the text would be spoken word by vocalist Shara Nova, whose delivery, sound, and stage presence reminded me of Fiona Apple, Bjork, and Laurie Anderson rolled into one. Truthfully, the evening’s performance had me feeling so much like I was at a local coffee shop for Open Mic Night that I wasn’t sure whether to clap or snap my fingers at its conclusion.

While I did enjoy the performance, there were a few choices that I had issue with, such as the use of pre-recorded orchestration when there was a full orchestra present. There were other extras used, such as seemingly disembodied voices (or was it our onstage musicians, couldn’t really tell because of masks being worn) and nature sounds, which sometimes added to the feel of the composition and other times did not.

Throughout the evening, the composers gave our stringed instrumentalists ample opportunities to shine even brighter with scattered solo turns in the violin, second violin (which is kind of unusual), viola, and cellos. Sorry basses. 

I am very grateful to the Louisville Orchestra for taking a chance with such an unusual and progressive work and I could certainly see this put into an orchestral repertoire. But, buyer beware, this is the stuff that professionals should tackle and ours were certainly up to the task.

Bravi Tutti!!

The Blue Hour

February 19, 2022The Louisville Orchestra
Paristown Hall
724 Brent Street
Louisville, KY 40202

Annette Skaggs is heavily involved as an Arts Advocate here in Louisville. She is a freelance professional opera singer who has performed throughout Europe and in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Boulder, Little Rock, Peoria, Chicago, New York and of course Louisville. Aside from her singing career, she has been a production assistant for Kentucky Opera, New York City Opera, and Northwestern University. Her knowledge and expertise have developed over the course of 25+ years’ experience in the classical arts.